BAGHDAD – Two suicide bombers blew themselves up inside and near a Shiite mosque in Baghdad on Tuesday, killing 26 people and wounding 55, Iraqi officials said.
The coordinated blasts were the latest in a string of attacks that has hit Iraq, reviving fears the country is headed back toward the widespread sectarian bloodshed that pushed it to the brink of civil war in 2006 and 2007.
Two police officers said the first bomber detonated his explosives at a security checkpoint near the mosque in Baghdad's northern Qahira neighborhood in an apparent attempt to distract the authorities. The district is a middle-class, Shiite-majority neighborhood.
Amid the commotion, a second bomber slipped into the mosque and blew himself up while worshippers were performing midday prayers, according to police.
Most of the casualties were among students from a nearby Imam al-Sadiq University for Islamic Studies. Police officials said the university's Shiite students usually perform their midday prayers in the targeted mosque.
Ali Faleh, a university student, said he was inside a stationary shop nearby when he heard a thunderous explosion.
"Everybody ran to the blast site and I saw the body of a colleague who used to be in my class," he said. "The aim of today's attack was only to hurt the Shiites who were there to study or pray, not to fight or kill anybody else."
A medic in a nearby hospital confirmed the casualties. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to media.
Violence has surged in Iraq in recent months, along with sectarian and political tensions. Insurgents frequently attack Shiites deemed by Sunni extremists as infidels and non-Muslims.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but suicide bombings and attacks against Shiite worshippers are frequently the work of Al Qaeda's Iraq arm. Also, more than 100 Sunni worshippers were killed in a series of attacks that targeted Sunni mosques In Iraq between mid-April and May.
The bloodshed roiling Iraq has risen to levels not seen since 2008. Nearly 2,000 have been killed since the start of April, including more than 220 this month.
On Sunday, a wave of apparently coordinated bombings and a shooting killed at least 51 people. Fifteen people were killed in bomb attacks on Monday, including one caused by a suicide bomber who set off his explosives-laden belt among a group of policemen in Fallujah, west of Baghdad.